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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 98 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 ended the first period of that beautiful conception, art sustained by the state, artists relieved from all care except that of expressing beauty. The ateliers were closed; the weavers had to seek other means of gaining their living. The busy Gobelins, a very Paradise of workers, an establishment which felt itself the pride of Paris and the pet of the king, full of merry apprentices and able masters, this happy solidarity fell under neglect. The courtyards were lonely; the Bièvre rippled by unused; the buildings were silent and deserted. Some of the workers were happy enough to be taken in at Beauvais, some returned to Flanders, but many were at the miserable necessity of dropping their loved professions and of joining the royal troops, for which the relentless ambition of the king had such large and terrible use. The time when the factory remained inactive were the dolorous years from 1694 to 1697. It was in the latter year that peace was signed in the Holland town of Ryswick, which ended at least one of Louis’ bloody oppressions, the fierce attacks in the Palatinate. The place of Colbert was never filled, so far as the Gobelins was concerned. Louvois had not its interests in his hard hands, nor had his immediate followers in state administrations up to 1708, which included Mansard (of the roofs) and the flippity courtesan, the Duc d’Antin. But power was later given to Jules Robert de Cotte to raise the fallen Gobelins by his own wise direction, assisted by his father’s political co-operation (1699-1735). Once again can we smile in thinking of the factory where the wares of beauty were produced. Of course, the artists flocked to the centre, eager to express themselves. The one most interesting to us was Claude Audran. Others there were who contributed adorable designs and helped build up the most exquisite expressions of modern art, but, alas, their modesty was such that their names are scarce known in connexion with the art they vivified. The aged Louis was ending his forceful reign in increasing weakness, deserted at the finish by all but the rigid de Maintenon; and four-year-old Louis, the grandson of the Grand Dauphin, was succeeding under the direction of the Regent of Orleans. New monarchs, new styles, the rule was; for the newly-crowned must have his waves of flattery curling about the foot of the throne. Louis XIV, the Grand Monarque, lived to his pose of heavy magnificence even in the furnishing and decorating of the apartments where he ruled as king and where he lived as man. Sumptuous splendour, expressed in heavy design, in deep colouring, with much red and gold, these were the order of the day, and best expressed the reign. But with Philip as regent, and the young king but a baby, a gayer mood must creep into the articles of beauty with which man self-indulgently decorates his surroundings. Pomp of a heavy sort had no place in the regent’s heart. He saw life lightly, and liked to foster the belief that a man might make of it a pretty play. Thus, given so good excuse for a new school of decoration, Claude Audran snatched up his talented brush and put down his dainty inspirations with unfaltering delicacy of touch. He wrote upon his canvas poems in life, symphonies in colour, created a whole world of tasteful fancy, a world whose entire intent was to please. He left the heavy ways of pomp and revelled in a world where roses bloom and ribbons flutter, where clouds are strong to support the svelte deity upon them, and where the rudest architecture is but an airy trellis. The classic, the Greek, he never forgot. It was ever his inspiration, his alphabet with which he wrote the spirit of his composition, but it was a classic thought played upon with the most talented of variations. Pure Greek was too cold and chaste for the temper of the time in which he lived and worked and of which he was the creature; and so his classic foundation was graced with curves, with colour, with artful abandon,

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 99 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 and all the charming fripperies of one of the most exquisite periods of decoration. Gods and goddesses were a necessary part of such compositions, and a continual playing among amorini, but such deities lived not upon Olympus, nor anywhere outside France of the Eighteenth Century. The heavy human forms made popular by the inflation of the Seventeenth Century were banished to some dark haven reserved for by-gone modes, and these new gods were exquisite as fairies while voluptuous as courtesans. They were all caught young and set, while still adolescent and slender, in suitable niches of delicate surroundings. The talent of Audran, not content with figures alone, was lavishly expended on those ingenious decorative designs which formed the frame and setting of the figures, the airy world in which they lived and in the borders that confined the whole. Only a study of tapestries or their photographs can show the radical depth of the change from the styles prevailing under the influence of Madame de Maintenon to those produced by Audran and his school under the regence. The difference in character of the two dominations is the very evident cause. It is as though the severe moral pose of de Maintenon had suppressed a whole Pandora’s box of loves and graces who, when the lid was lifted by the Regent, flew, a happy crew, to fix themselves in dainty decorative effect, trailing with them their complement of accessory flowers, butterflies, clouds and tempered grotesques. Philippe d’Orleans, under the influence of the corrupt cleverness of Cardinal du Bois, celebrated the few years of his regency by bankrupting France with John Law’s financial fallacies (this was the time of the South Sea Bubble and the Mississippi scheme) and by returning to Spain her princess as unsuited for the boy king’s mate—with war as the natural result of that insult. But he also let artists have their way, and the style that they supplied him, shows a talented invention unsurpassed. Audran we will place at the top, but only to fix a name, for there was a whole army of men composing the tapestry designs that so delighted the people of those days and that have gone on thrilling their beholders for two hundred years, and which distinguish French designs from all others—which give them that indefinable quality of grace and softness that we denominate French. Wizards in design were the artists who developed it and those who continue it in our own times. A CHAPTER XII THE GOBELINS FACTORY (Continued) UDRAN had in his studio André Watteau, whose very name spells sophisticated pastorals of exceeding loveliness. Watteau worked with Audran when he was producing his most inspired set of tapestry, on which we must dwell for a bit for pure pleasure. This set is called the Portières des Dieux. That they were portières, only door-hangings, is a fact too important to be slipped by. It denotes one of the greatest changes in tapestries when the size of a hanging comes down from twenty or thirty feet to the dimensions of a doorway. It speaks a great

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